The Providence of God

God’s providence is His perfect management of the earth’s affairs by preserving and taking care of His creation. Because God is sovereign, not a hair falls from the head of those whom He preserves nor does a sparrow drop from its nest outside of His control. Providence is an outworking of God’s benevolence and is thus one way in which He shows Himself as abundantly able to relieve the terrible condition which sin has placed the earth into. Although the workings of providence are not equivalent to the message of the Gospel, they can mercifully place humans into situations where they do hear the Gospel proclaimed and God grants life to spiritually dead sinners.

What specifically can providence consist of? It mostly works through ordinary means. God provides rain in due time to water crops and produce food. He provides money for needy families through their hard work or through the charity of others. He delivers a woman safely through the difficult experience of childbirth without lasting harm. He mercifully allows a car to miss an unaware pedestrian by a couple feet. Sometimes certain providential occasions have been described as “miraculous.” This is not technically correct, since a miracle is a direct act of God upon the natural order of things, temporarily laying it aside. Many of these occasions were rather God’s careful ordering of natural affairs to produce amazing results (such as, for example, the underground preservation of the Chilean miners a couple years ago). This is not to say that God doesn’t perform miracles today, but only that a great deal of His providence occurs within the natural boundaries which He carefully set up.

For Christians, the doctrine of God’s providence reminds them that God has promised to take care of them every single day of their lives upon earth as they continue their pilgrimage towards the Celestial City. It is a very tender teaching for Christians, since it affirms that God listens to their prayers for the basic necessities of life. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, has “Give us this day our daily bread.” Providence helps direct and confirm the message of the Gospel that God will be a God to believers and to their children. By providing for believers now, the Lord gives them a taste of the future glories to come.

For unbelievers, the doctrine of providence confirms Matthew 5:45, that rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. God is kind even to evil and ungrateful people. This shows unbelievers that if God is so benevolent to them in this very basic way, then why should they reject the even greater proof of His love, the Gospel, when it is preached to them? Why not cast both their physical and their spiritual cares upon the Almighty, their Creator? Sadly, many unbelievers do reject the Gospel, and God’s providential care of them thus stands as a witness against them at the Last Judgment. Unbelievers need to remember that God has already been incredibly merciful to them, and then rest by faith upon Jesus Christ to be restored in fellowship with a Heavenly Father. We thus need to have a healthy view of God’s providence, which is an integral part of the created order. It helps us see how God operates in this world and it shows us much about Him, so that when the Gospel comes to us we may put providence alongside it and say, “We have tasted, and we see that the Lord is good!”

See Belgic Confession Article 13 and Heidelberg Catechism Qs. 27 & 28 for good summaries of the doctrine of providence.

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